Aiken High FFA students place wreaths at officers’ gravesides
The Aiken High FFA Club members were moved as they worked on the Christmas wreaths this week, placing them Thursday at two gravesites at Historic Bethany Cemetery.
They honored the two Aiken Public Safety officers – Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers and Master Public Safety Officer Scott Richardson – who were killed in the line of duty.
Richardson was shot on Dec. 20, 2011, and died the next day. Five weeks later, Rogers also lost her life. Richardson’s family chose not to participate in the ceremony so close to his date of his death. Sandy Rogers’ family did take part, including her father, Jack Rogers.
“Our hearts are filled for these young kids showing their appreciation for our officers, not only for my sister, but for Scotty’s family, too,” said Rogers’ sister, Virginia Rogers Johnson. “It was nice of them to think about us.”
FFA instructor Meghan Wood said she and her students had searched for a way to recognize the public safety officers. Wood had seen a video of a similar effort at Arlington National Cemetery, so she and her students agreed such a program could be replicated annually.
“This was really emotional for us,” said Anna Mink, FFA president. “We just wanted to have a small part in honoring the officers.”
The ceremony also provided solace for AHS resource officer Penny Stanford and senior Michael Rogers, the nephew of Sandy Rogers.
Michael was 9 when he was adopted by Rogers’ brother and sister-in-law, Jimmy and Mary Ruth Rogers. Soon afterward, Sandy and her life partner, Frances Williams, emerged into almost another set of parents to the young boy.
“It was an amazing experience with Aunt Sandy and Aunt Frannie,” Michael said. “They were really good to me, taking me to baseball games and watching me play the trumpet for the band during football games.”
Sandy would call him Mikey, but would switch to “Michael” if he was in trouble, he said with a smile.
Frances Williams is a longtime officer with the USC Aiken public safety department. Michael had never expressed a lot of interest in that direction, but did plan to become a Marine after he finished high school.
On the morning Sandy Rogers died, Michael announced he would follow through with the Marine Corps and would then go into law enforcement.
“It was a way to honor my aunt. She wanted me to get my Eagle Scout badge,” he said – and did. “I wanted to show her what I could do.”
Rogers and Richardson were friends of Stanford. She, too, expressed her appreciation for the FFA members, providing the police with blue ribbons for them. During Richardson’s funeral, Stanford and Sandy had driven with other officers. They had to make each other laugh to keep from crying. When Sandy died five weeks later, Stanford was devastated.
She’s grateful for the generosity of the FFA students, who she has known for years.
“They’re a great group of kids, very special,” Stanford said.
Several of the FFA students read short essays they had written for the graveside program. Among them was Mink, who talked about sacrifice.
“To most of us, it is just a nine-letter word that we hear about in church most of the time,” she said. “But to these families before us, they truly know and have felt first-hand the true meaning of sacrifice.”